As we continue looking at the lives and times of Queen Victoria’s children and grandchildren, we’re going to keep bumping into people who changed the course of human history, often for the worse. But when it comes to Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II, Queen Victoria’s first grandchild, events beginning with his breech birth lend a bit of context to emotional and moral deformities that he would inflict on the world in the form of World War I.
Wilhelm’s mother, Princess Royal Victoria, very nearly died in childbirth when he was born in 1859, as did the young prince. The difficult delivery left him with a condition known today as Erb’s Palsy, as well as possible brain damage from hypoxia during delivery. Because of his disabled and, eventually, significantly shorter left arm, his childhood was, in part, a series of painful physical ordeals. He was subjected to protracted sessions in binders and braces to try to strengthen or correct the injured arm, as well as folksier treatments like “animal baths.” These are not the warm and fuzzy events you may be imagining.
Wilhelm adored his grandmother, and the feeling was quite mutual, but his mother’s guilt over his injuries led to a level of estrangement between them as he grew up. The role of English doctors in his own birth, as well as in misdiagnosing his father’s ultimately fatal throat cancer, appear to have fully curdled Wilhelm’s feelings on England and the English. Add it all up, and by the time he ascended to the throne at 29, he was primed to do real damage on the world stage.
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